Authors: Paige Harbison
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #General
Meet Winchester Prep’s local princess
I looked down the hall and noticed one of the few people who had never been fazed by my reputation. He was talking animatedly to a girl I didn’t recognize at all when Mr. Ezhno strode out of the classroom.
“Miss Duke.” He closed the door behind him. “I know we’ve had this conversation many times before, but you still don’t come in on time and honestly I don’t know what more I can do.…”
I stopped listening. He was right; we had had this conversation so many times. He would prattle on about how it was not only disrespectful to him but also to my classmates, and so on, and then try to relate to me by telling me a story from his youth.
I shifted my focus back to the pair I’d been watching before Mr. Ezhno had come out. They were still there in front of the office, Liam talking enthusiastically to the girl I didn’t recognize. She said something that was apparently just hilarious, and he laughed appreciatively.
My chest tightened, the way it always did when I saw Liam. It had been such a long time since he’d ended things, and yet it still broke my heart a little to see him talking to another girl. I strained to hear them, knowing that a hundred yards was definitely out of my earshot.
And then I caught the tail end of something Mr. Ezhno was saying.
P A I G E H A R B I S O N
For Mommy and Grandmommy,
who helped me learn the easy way.
Also to anyone who has ever had to pay for their mistakes, or wished someone else would.
P R O L O G U E
I pressed down on the accelerator. It felt good to have power back in my life. Even if it was just power over my car, or power over my fate: dying or living.
The road was a winding one, with trees on either side, and very little traffic. I watched the speedometer reading rise from thirty mph to forty.
All I could think about was how sorry everyone would be when they found out. I pictured the local news coverage, the headlines, the sheet of paper they’d send around the school, offering grief counseling to my classmates.
Maybe it wasn’t that I wanted to die; maybe I just wanted to scare them. I wanted them all to realize what could have happened and to feel awful for how they’d acted. I wanted them to try to apologize and beg for a chance to make up for everything they’d done.
I pictured the faces of my friends as they heard the news.
Grasping each other’s arms, waiting to be told everything would be okay. Then hearing that it wouldn’t be, or that the 8
P A I G E H A R B I S O N
doctors weren’t sure. Maybe visiting my hospital room, where I would lie motionless, the sound of my heart monitor beeping not nearly often enough.
I wondered who would visit me, who would refuse to leave until I woke up. Perhaps even get into a nasty snarl with one of the doctors who told them to leave because visiting hours were over.
I pictured Meredith having to explain to my father what had happened while he was out of town. She’d admit how she’d treated me, and my father would tell her not to speak to him. Maybe he’d even kick her out of the house. Maybe he’d feel guilty for never being around.
And what if I did die? Who would go to my funeral? Who would read the eulogies? What smiling picture of me would they place in the f lower wreath next to my casket? Who would break down while deciding which outfit to wear to the service?
I pictured Liam giving a eulogy for me, vowing never to love again.
My engine roared, my tires eating up the pavement.
I had been paying more attention to my thoughts than to the road, and when I shook my focus back to my driving, I found myself coming too fast into a curve. My foot jerked from the accelerator to the brake in an instinct to survive. Suddenly I wished I could take back the thoughts I’d just had. They were stupid. I was being reckless. I didn’t want to die. I wanted to drive back to school and pretend I’d never left at all.
The side of the road veered down an embankment, where the only things that could stop me were the trees.
In seconds, the car tires bounced over the edge of the road into the grass and rocks. My foot, still pressed hard on the brake, shook like a muscle rarely used. I didn’t know if I was 9
screaming. All I knew was that my side of the car was heading toward a huge tree.
Oh, my God, I’m going to die.
Icy fingers clutched my heart.
What happened after that I’d never be able to explain. I don’t know if it was a dream, I don’t know if it was real, I don’t know if it was my Oz. But it wasn’t what I would have expected.
There were no three ghosts, no big silver screen with the movie of my life playing, no well-intentioned angel looking to earn his wings. Just a jury of people I’d wronged, deciding whether or not I got to live.
Everything was done. I couldn’t take it back, couldn’t change it. It was way too late to say the two words that could have saved me if I’d just meant them sooner.
But we’ll get to that. First I have to tell you why I got in the car to begin with.
C H A P T E R O N E
Nothing interesting ever happens or begins on a Thursday.
Friday and Saturday are the weekend. Sunday is the end of the weekend, the last day of rest. Monday is the beginning of another week. Tuesday’s a cool name. Wednesday is “hump day,” an expression I loathe.
But Thursday is nothing. Everything that’s going to happen during the week is over, and the weekend is coming but it’s not there yet. Even that old rhyme about the day you were born just says
Thursday’s child has far to go.
What does that even
When I woke up that day, I had no idea the day that lay before me was the beginning of the end. There was no strange weather event, the neighborhood dogs weren’t howling, no meteors struck Earth.
Maybe if I could have read the shreds of cereal at the bottom of my bowl like tea leaves, I would have gone back to bed. Or just transferred to the local public school right then. Instead, I ate the stupid cereal, drank the crappy coffee my stepmother made (fair trade=bitter and thin in my book) and idly checked to make sure my phone was charged.
Same as every day.
Then, just like every day, I left the bowl by the sink and glanced at the clock on the stove. It read 7:05 a.m. I still had ten minutes before I had to leave for school. Just enough time to double-check my makeup and outfit. I’d started toward the stairs to my room when I heard my stepmother’s high heels clopping into the kitchen.
I sighed audibly.
“What?” I had like a million things I’d rather do with my ten minutes than stand here waiting for her to stumble her way through yet another awkward conversation.
“Well…” She came into view at the bottom of the stairs. “I was just thinking that maybe…if you’re not doing anything tonight, then maybe we could go see that new movie. The one you couldn’t see with your friends because of your father’s banquet the other night?
She shrugged her thin shoulders under the silk Michael Kors top I would have killed for. Sometimes I looked at her and thought she might be prettier than I was.
I hated that.
“I just figured with your father being out of town until next weekend, maybe we could have sort of a girls’ night out.”
She gave me a tentative smile and waited for a response, and then after not getting one in reasonable time, kept talking. “I looked it up and it sounds pretty good, actually…”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I’m busy tonight.”
I started up the stairs. I knew exactly which movie she was talking about, and I had been dying to see it. But going to the movies with your stepmother—how pathetic is that? She might as well have asked me to go to a midnight opening of
Blue’s Clues 3-D
in full furry costume regalia.
P A I G E H A R B I S O N
“Oh, but you were so disappointed when you couldn’t go the other night…”
I stopped when she said that and bent toward her, talking to her as if she were the child and
was the evil stepmother.
“That’s because I didn’t want to go to Dad’s stupid dinner thing, that’s all.”
“Oh.” She looked down at a piece of paper in her hand, which looked like it had the movie summary on it. I felt a small stab of guilt when I saw it.
She folded it in half and followed me as I walked up the stairs. I could feel her eyes on my back. “Well, maybe there’s another movie you’d like to see, or we could do something else—”
I stopped and turned again, feeling disproportionately averse to the idea. “Okay, Meredith? I don’t know how to make this obvious to you if you really don’t get it yet. I don’t want to do anything with you tonight. Mmkay?”
Her eyes widened and she looked like she was about to have another one of her crying fits. For God’s sake, what was
with her? She cried all the time lately. She was, like, forty.
Was that too young to go into menopause?
Whatever. I wasn’t going to take responsibility for upsetting her. I’d walked away from arguments like this feeling guilty before. Walked away feeling like I must have really pushed the limit to make her cry. But then, later in the week, I’d see her sobbing over
and realize it was not about me.
Though I did wonder why on earth she was alone in the living room watching
I drove to my boring, stuffy, private high school, Winchester Preparatory, in my 2007 Toyota Corolla (my father gave me his old car instead of buying me a new one in one of his few-and-far-between fits of parenting) and parked in my usual 1 3
spot. I was late, also as usual, though this time it was because of the conversation with Meredith. So it wasn’t actually my fault. It never is.
Still, I guess I wasn’t exactly running down the hall. And I did stop at the vending machines to get a Vitaminwater. After a moment or two of deliberation between f lavors, I headed to class. To Tech Ed, where my teacher was as useless as the subject.
His name was Mr. Ezhno, and he was just simply not cut out for teaching. He was weak and spineless, and on top of that, entirely boring. He blathered on, teaching us things everyone in our day and age already knows. How to turn on a computer. How to open a blank document.
When we weren’t doing that, we were doing things like building light switches. Which was stupid, in my opinion.
Why should we have to figure it out when it’s already
figured out? I seriously doubted that I’d ever be in a situation where someone was saying, “Quick, it’s an emergency, put down those matches and build a light switch!”
It would have been almost impossible to pay attention to him even if anyone had tried.
Which, naturally, we didn’t.
On days when we were behind the computers, we were either working on essays with useless topics or ignoring him to play games or browse the internet, while the more studious students did work for other (real) classes. Either way, none of us were doing what we were supposed to.
About halfway through the semester, he noticed that no one was paying attention to him, so he started making us turn off the computer screens when we weren’t supposed to be doing something with them. All this did, however, was bore us into terrorizing him. We would raise our hands and ask deliberately 1 4
P A I G E H A R B I S O N
stupid questions, and he would have to answer them, just in case one of them was for real.
Except, there was one day when Matt Churchill had asked, with a completely straight face, if there was really such thing as a “chick magnet.” Mr. Ezhno had refused to answer, calling it a “ridiculous question.”
But I’d seen the doubt f licker through his eyes as he wondered if Matt was serious.
As if the curriculum wasn’t irritating enough, the class was first thing in the morning, making it positively impossible for me to ever get there on time. And once I did get there, I admittedly gave him kind of a hard time.
Every once in a while, a twinge of pity for the man stopped me in my tracks. Him, with his button-down shirts and pleated khakis, his office supplies, weekly boxes of new chalk and the stickers he put on papers with good grades (which, incidentally, I knew existed only from spotting them on other people’s papers). He was the classic nerdy teacher. Seriously, if the makers of that movie
had seen this guy, they would have given Milton and his stapler the boot and asked Mr. Ezhno to step in.
Often, however, I didn’t stop. It usually started with me saying something double-sided that Mr. Ezhno couldn’t respond to appropriately. He’d then send me to the main office, I’d get in-school suspension, my behavior wouldn’t improve and then he’d have
parent-teacher meetings with Meredith.
I hated that.
my parent, and my father never got involved in this stuff. Thank